Bills that would exempt small businesses and teenagers from the minimum-wage law passed by voters in November cleared a House committee on Tuesday evening.
House Bill 1752, sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees from the wage law starting next year.
Nonprofit "developmental service providers" and nonprofit organizations with annual budgets of less than $1 million would also be exempt.
House Bill 1753, also sponsored by Lundstrum, would exempt workers ages 16-19.
Lundstrum said the voter-approved law will pose a challenge for small businesses next year, when the minimum wage is scheduled to rise from $9.25 per hour to $10 per hour.
The wage will then go up to $11 in 2021.
Competition will eventually cause the businesses to have to raise their wages anyway, she said, but her proposal would allow them to "catch their breath."
She also said she's worried about teenagers not being able to get jobs as the state minimum wage increases.
In response to a question from Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, she said she didn't think her bill would cause employers to hire teenagers instead of older workers.
Lundstrum told the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor that HB1752 would keep the minimum wage for the small businesses at $9.25 per hour.
But David Couch, the attorney who led the petition drive for the minimum-wage measure, said after the meeting that that's not true.
As the bill is currently written, it would exempt the businesses from the state minimum wage entirely starting next year, meaning they would only be subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, he said.
That would exempt those businesses from not only the increase passed in 2018, but also the increase passed by voters in 2014 that eventually raised the state minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour.
"That rolls back two elections," he said.
He added that making it easier for teenagers to get jobs would create more incentive for them to drop out of school.
"We had this same argument during the campaign, and voters rejected that," Couch said.
The committee advanced both bills to the full House in divided voice votes.
Arkansas' current minimum wage already excludes employers with fewer than four workers. Those employers are still subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, has also filed a bill that would create exceptions to the initiated act.
Senate Bill 115 remained listed as being on deferred status on the agenda of the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Tuesday.
A Section on 03/13/2019
Print Headline: 2 minimum-wage exemption bills advanced by House committee